Influential Females of Maharaj's Time
The prominent and influential females of Maharaj's time were very devotional and loyal to Bhagwan when He was on this earth.
Their devotion and loyalty was boundless. These female devotees were seva bhavik and observed niyam, nischay, paksha, upaasna , bhakti, tyag and bhavna. They were exemplary women that modern day satsangis can learn a lot from. Evidence of their true and staunch faith in Swaminarayan Bhagwan and the leelas that occurred in their presence have been well recorded in the Satsangi Jeevan, Vachnamrut, and Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan. Examples of such remarkable and pious women include: Bhaktimata, Gangama, Ladhiba, Karaniba, Jivuba, Ladhuba, Rajbai, and Kushalkunvarbai.
Bhaktimata (also known as Premvati because of her devotion to Dharmpita) was born in Chhappaiya to Krishna Sharma and Bhavaani. She was born as the perfect incarnate of Bhakti (reference to Durvasa Muni's shaap and the sabha in Badhrikashram). When Premvati reached the age of marriage, her father arranged for her to marry Dharmadev (Son of Bal Sharma) of Itaar. Dharmadev and Bhaktimata settled in Chhappaiya after their marriage. In Prayag, Bhaktimata and Dharmadev met Ramanand Swami. They were given Mahabhagvati Diksha by Ramanand Swami (incarnate of Uddavji). As principal disciples of Ramanand Swami, Bhaktimata was assigned to give Mantradiksha to female devotees, whilst Dharmadev was assigned to give Mantradiksha to males of the Uddhav Sampraday.
Bhaktimata soon gave birth to their first son Rampratapji. Society during that time was very disrespectful of Dharmadev and his family because they were jealous of the devotion, fame and respect he had earned. People started harassing Dharmadev and his family, so they moved to Ayodhya. They moved from town to town, and finally returned to Chhaippaya. In Chhaippaya, on Chaitra Sud 9, Samvat 1837, 2nd April 1781 , Bhaktimata gave birth to Shree Ghanshyam Maharaj at 10:10PM . Bhaktimata also had a third son named Ichharamji when Ghanshyam was five years old. She was a great mother who loved her children dearly. She showed great affection for Ghanshyam, especially when He displayed His Divine and Human qualities.
Gangama was a Brahmin by birth and originally from Jetalpur. She was initiated into the Uddhav Sampraday by Ramanand Swami. When Ramanand Swami departed from this earth she was very grieved and vowed only to eat unsalted foods. One day an assembly had gathered in Ambabai's courtyard in Ahmedabad. Gangama had come to Ambabai's courtyard to have darshan of Maharaj. Still being upset by Ramanand Swami's departure, Maharaj pacified her explaining, “Ramanand Swami is ever present in our Sampradaya. Please do not grieve and begin to eat wholesome foods.” However Gangama was not convinced. Maharaj then took on the form of Ramanand Swami and gave darshan to Gangama. It was only then that Gangama realised the greatness of Maharaj and remembered Ramanand Swami's words that he was merely the conch blower and that the Almighty Lord would incarnate later. She overcame her grief and began to eat wholesome foods. From that day on she nourished full faith in Swaminarayan Bhagwan and her devotion was boundless.
Gangama is also famed in our sampraday as the only person to be referred to lovingly as “Maa” by Maharaj (this was the extent of Maharaj's great love and affection for Gangama). Because Maharaj had so much affection for Gangama, all other devotees of the sampraday, including the saints, also referred to her as “Maa”.
Gangama was also an expert at cooking. Ramanand Swami used to eat food prepared by Gangama so Maharaj said that He would also accept her offerings like Ramanand Swami. Maharaj also said, “I will always be present in the idols of Revati Baldevji which you worship. I will accept your service through them.”
Thereafter Gangama continued to follow Maharaj's wishes and worshipped and served Him incessantly. Whenever Maharaj came to Jetalpur, He would go to Gangama's house to receive her love and affection through the thaal she prepared for Him. Ladhuba and Jivuba also learned of Gangama's greatness and whenever Gangama came to Gadhada they enjoyed the bliss of serving Gangama. Even today the place where Gangama used to reside is preserved and has been made into a prasaadi sthan . The Murti that Gangama worshiped are also preserved at Jetalpur Temple .
Ladhiba was a Brahmin by caste and was widowed from childhood. She was from Bhuj and originally a disciple of Ramanand Swami. Because she had the same guru as Bhagwan she would address Bhagwan as ‘brother'. One day Ramanand Swami gave darshan to her in human form and said, “Why do you address the Lord as ‘brother'? He is the Almighty God Supreme. I also pray to Him. Tell others to pray to Him as well.” After that auspicious day, Ladhiba became a very ardent and staunch devotee of Lord Swaminarayan.
One day Maharaj asked her, “Will you obey My orders?”
Ladhiba replied, “Nothing is ever hard to be obeyed. You may give me any order.”
Maharaj told her to put on her bhabhi's rich garments, ornaments, and kum kum on her forehead. He then told her to fetch two pitchers of water from the well in the city. Brahmin widowed women in those days had to live in very strict bondage, they wore dark and thick clothes, and had to cover their face with a sari. Therefore, Ladhiba being a widow and dressing up in her bhabhi's rich garments would have been strictly forbidden, but Ladhiba followed Maharaj's aagna without hesitation and went into the city dressed in her bhabhi's garments to fetched two pitchers of water. On her way to the city everyone wondered who she was. When they asked her who she was she frankly replied that she was Ladhiba. People also asked, “At this old age whom have you married?” She replied, “In this eternal universe I have taken many births, married there, and widowed also. Now I have an immortal husband.” She replied that she had married Lord Swaminarayan and that He was her beloved husband who would give her the ultimate redemption. Giving everyone this reply, she returned back to Swaminarayan Bhagwan.
When she returned, Bhagwan asked, “Did anyone ask you anything?” Ladhiba told Him what had occurred and the questions she had been asked on her way to the city. Bhagwan was very pleased and cast her into samadhi . She could hear the Lord no matter how far away she was from Him. She was also given the gift of putting other ladies into samadhi to show them the Lord residing in Akshardham. From then on, she efficiently made other ladies into staunch and devout followers of Shri Swaminarayan Bhagwan.
Karaniba was a great devotee of Maharaj who was originally from Dhamadka, Kutch . One day Maharaj came to Dhamadka bare-footed to Karaniba's house for thaal. On the way to Karaniba's house there was a Brahmin who was walking bare-footed. Seeing the barefooted Brahmin, Maharaj was overcome with compassion so He took off his sandals and gave them to the Brahmin to wear. Because Maharaj walked barefooted He had eighteen big splinters in His divine lotus feet. Karaniba took Maharaj's lotus feet into her hands and lovingly removed the splinters. While removing the big splinters from His lotus feet she scolded Him while tears were flowing down her cheeks, “You do not look after yourself!” Maharaj replied, “I am not bothered. How can I sit doing nothing when I have so many souls to liberate!”
On another divine occasion, Maharaj came to Karaniba's residence and Himself adorned the clothing of a woman to disguise Himself. Brahmanand Swami later came and asked Karaniba if Maharaj was present. Karaniba was sworn to denial because Maharaj knew that Brahmanand Swami would surely mock Him if he saw Him in this disguise. Brahmanand saw through Karaniba and entered Karaniba's house. Overjoyed at seeing Maharaj wearing a gagro, sari , and ornaments on His hands, feet and ears, he began to sing, “ Taro gagaro geraro ray, gopi baniya giradhari… ” Maharaj said to Karaniba, “See, I told you Brahamand Swami would mock me didn't I?”
Overall, Maharaj was greatly pleased by Karaniba's service and granted her a boon. Karaniba requested, “Maharaj, I was unable to attend the utsavs you celebrated in Jetalpur, Ahmedabad, Gadhada etc. due to my old age and I am also very frail. I wish I chould have darshan of all the Utsavs and leelas that you perform sitting here in Dhamadka.” Thus, Maharaj granted Karaniba Nivaran Drishti so she could have divine darshan from afar.